The industry people all agree that it happened. Boston — once the bastion of shot-and-a-beer and whiskey-and-coke — can now be described as a cocktail town.
Theories as to why differ: some say credit should go to the dotcom tech nerds, Carrie Bradshaw or some guy named Brother Cleve.
Cleve, cocktail consultant and musician originally from Medford, remembers a simpler time. It was the mid-1990s. Cleve loved making old cocktails. Selling such drinks behind the bar, however, was initially a challenge.
“There was a lot of ‘What the (expletive) is a Sidecar? I’ll have a Bud Light.’ It went like that for a while,” he said.
Times have changed. A cadre of bars — the now defunct B-Side Lounge in Cambridge and Silvertone Bar & Grill and No. 9 Park on the Boston side of the river — began featuring extended cocktail menus in the late 1990s. Others — Eastern Standard, Drink — followed suit. Craft cocktails are now a cottage industry in Boston.
The genesis? Some say it was the dotcom and high tech boom in the late 1990s that kicked it off in earnest. Twenty-somethings working in Kendall Square had discovered their stock was worth millions and didn’t mind paying extra for an exotic concoction. Others say Boston’s gay community were the first to embrace extensive and sophisticated cocktail menus.
“Our first audience was high tech kids and gay people,” said Cleve. “There was this cool retro thing going on in the gay community and they really supported it.”
Others say the rise of cocktails in the city has everything to do with the cultural zeitgeist. The cosmopolitan of Sex in the City or the old-fashioned of Mad Men become en vogue because everyone wants to be Don Draper or Carrie Bradshaw.
With alcohol consumption decreasing, according to Joe McGuirk, a bartender for more than 20 years who now works at Highland Kitchen in Somerville, people have become more concerned with quality and sophistication of drinks.
“In 1990, no one had a cocktail list. You maybe had a margarita list, but no one had a separate menu that they would hand you with dozens of cocktails,” he said. “Boston, for once, at least in this case, we were not trying to keep up with anything, we were behind on fine dining, I would argue that we’ve caught up. With cocktails, we were on the same wavelength from the start.”
McGuirk has witnessed many changes in bar culture during the past 25 years. The bar has largely become gentrified.
“I don’t break up fights anymore,” is how he describes the change in clientele.
Alcohol consumption has decreased, but concern about the quality of drinks has increased.
“We’re all becoming more critical of what we’re drinking,” said McGuirk.
Josh Childs, co-owner of Silvertone Bar & Grill, Trina’s Starlite Lounge and Audubon, has similar sentiments.
“You had younger people with disposable income not really wanting to drink what their parents drank,” he said. “But they ended up drinking what their grandparents drank. Funny how that works.”